On Monday, 04 September 2023, the Deputy Minister in the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Mr Buti Manamela, applauded the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme for phenomenal growth since its inception in 2016.

He was delivering the keynote address at the start of the two-day Studentpreneurs Indaba 2023, that was hosted at the University of the Western Cape.

The annual Studentpreneurs Indaba seeks to support student entrepreneurs by giving them access to critical knowledge, opportunities and networks in support of their business endeavours.

Manamela (above) said the chosen theme for 2023, Social Innovation for Societal Impact, could not be more apt, given that this was also underlined in the World Economic Forum (WEF) report published in June this year. That report, he said, had illuminated the importance of social innovation, especially now, as the world was undergoing extreme transformations. These included economic, industrial, technological (merging of the digital and physical worlds and embedding of artificial intelligence), and geopolitical changes driven by a shift from the unipolar to a multipolar environment. The report also mentioned massive social changes that have seen people sometimes contending with conflicting values.

He said the WEF report had noted that in the face of these rapid changes, the need for radical social innovators who value impact, equity and justice over profit to ensure that no one is left behind, could not be overstated.

The Deputy Minister said the WEF report compelled policymakers, entrepreneurs, and social innovators alike to rethink several factors including the role of universities, in particular.

In that regard, he touched on the study by Dr Joanna Morawska from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, titled The Role of Universities in Social Innovation Within Quadruple/Quintuple Helix Model: Practical Implications from Polish Experience. Morawska highlights in her abstract, that “Universities need to go beyond their traditional missions and take an active role in a transformative change by working with their communities and creating real social impact.”

Manamela endorsed this view, thereby calling upon universities to seek creative ways of integrating different principles of knowledge production and its application. He expressed a wish to see universities becoming organisations that encourage diverse, heterogeneous, creative and innovative contexts for research and innovation.

“These observations, by both the World Economic Forum and Morawska, help us develop a deeper appreciation for the work done under the auspices of the EDHE Programme. More critically, those observations enhance our understanding of the potential and possibilities social innovations offer us as a country, and humanity.”

Manamela posited that over the years, social innovation had grown its capacity to influence mainstream policy and transform the lives of marginalised groups. He said with the rising levels of global inequality, social innovators had emerged as an alternative for the underserved.

“Where traditional social institutions have been unable to provide sustainable solutions for humanity, social innovators often intervened and closed this gap,” he said.

For an example of such innovators, the Deputy Minister cited the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organisation of the WEF aimed at accelerating outstanding models of social innovation. In their 2020 Impact Report, the Schwab Foundation, whose community consists of around 400 social innovators and has a footprint in 190 countries, states that they have improved the lives of 622 million people. Manamela said the report offered valuable lessons. The interventions include monetary assistance, provision of goods and services, addressing environmental issues such as reducing carbon emissions, improving education for children and youth, improving energy access and driving social inclusion.

“One of the cardinal lessons that we learn from the emergence of social innovations such as the Schwab Foundation or others such as Doctors Without Borders or South Africa’s Gift of the Givers, is that, by their design, traditional public institutions are not always able to keep up with rapid changes that are happening in society or the world. The rapid changes require organisations to be agile and internalise a culture of constant innovation. Equally important is the realisation that social innovation allows for the disruption of traditional and often rigid thinking.”

Well over 700 delegates, mostly student entrepreneurs from across South Africa’s university sector and relevant staff including members of various EDHE Communities of Practice, attended the 2023 Studentpreneurs Indaba. About 250 attended in person while the rest tuned in via online platforms.

He told the delegates at the Studentpreneurs Indaba that their challenge was to push traditional institutions out of their boundaries and help them think differently – that is, to understand how social innovation can lift people out of poverty, unemployment, inequality and other extensive challenges.

He said established institutions often found it laborious to adapt to changes, thus emphasising EDHE’s role to help universities reimagine their roles.

The two-day Studentpreneurs Indaba that ended on Tuesday preceded the 7th EDHE Lekgotla 2023, that started yesterday (Wednesday 6 September). This year’s Lekgotla aims to bring new insights and perspectives helping entrench universities in their pursuit to become entrepreneurial institutions through innovation, commercialisation and policy development. These are being shared in presentations, case studies, panel discussions and networking that will go on until this Friday, 8 September. 

Manamela said they, as government, would hereafter be waiting to hear from the EDHE team, the outcomes and recommendations of this Lekgotla – and the emerging policy implications. 

“Long and past should be the days when students go to universities, TVET colleges and community colleges, merely to find employment,” he said. “But even in the pursuit for employment, entrepreneurial skills are themselves critical. Our other expectation is that this Lekgotla will facilitate students’ collaboration with local and international stakeholders.”

As he was concluding, he reminded the EDHE programme team that their task was to help the department put to better use, the knowledge that universities produce. This was to help develop policy and unlock institutional mechanisms “that will extricate the economically marginalised sections of our society, particularly young people, women and rural communities, from the trap of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

“I do not doubt that you are equal to the task,” Manamela concluded.

Be audacious

Welcoming the delegates to their campus, Professor Vivienne Lawack (below), Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic at UWC, implored the studentpreneurs to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits and mindsets as they explored social innovation ideas, and, in doing so, to be audacious and courageous.

She echoed what the Deputy Minister had highlighted, in saying that challenges sometimes overshadow entrepreneurship development.  She said UWC, for one, had found that digital and financial exclusion caused serious impediments to entrepreneurial pursuits, especially for women and youth. She was confident, nonetheless, that with the support of the various communities of practice within EDHE, these challenges were not undefeatable. 

“You are in a space where you could draft a blueprint for the future around student entrepreneurship — the very pulse of entrepreneurship at universities – and how it finds its rhythm,” she said.

While the UWC now embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship, Professor Lawack stated that getting here was not without opposition. She said the argument she had put forward to the Senate in 2016 was that becoming an entrepreneurial university was not about turning it into a liberal space but enabling students to traverse entrepreneurship and seize opportunities. 

“No longer can we wait for government to enable job creation,” she said. “We should use that entrepreneurial spirit, the innovation that comes with it, creativity and problem-solving skills.”

She added that “the entrepreneurial spirit knows no age or boundaries; it thrives on audacity. My challenge to you is that you come up with solutions from a social innovation perspective that will lead to societal impact.”

Numerous topics were explored during the two-day Indaba. These included Leadership for Economic Advancement, Responsible Citizenship and Societal Impact; Social Impact, the Why; Empowered Students for High-Impact Businesses and How to Ensure the Sustainability of Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives. On Day One, a session was also dedicated to Women Economic Empowerment from the perspective of Social Justice: Does the Economic Empowerment of Student Women Play a Role in Fighting Gender-Based Violence?  

Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant at Universities South Africa. 

EDHE Lekgotla 2023 Articles